By  on April 23, 2007

Samsonite's premium division, Black Label, launched its Couture collection last Tuesday in Moscow, a city rooted both in history and new wave luxury, much like the company itself.

"There is a personal wealth boom here, a point of view of spending and the appreciation of luxury that we feel is very appropriate to the launch," said Samsonite creative director Quentin MacKay, speaking from the company's press event in the Russian capital.

The collection is available in 2,000 combinations of high-end materials and styles. Customers can design their own bags from fabrics taken from an era of bespoke tailoring, down to the lining, choosing from exotics like English bridal leather, sharkskin, bull hide and alligator, and finishes in gold, silver and gunmetal. The pieces may be monogrammed in multiple fonts.

"This was very much a logical step for us,'' MacKay said. "Our brand started in a similar way. In 1910, travel possibilities were limited, and for those who could afford it. It was a luxury exercise — brands did made-to-measure pieces. So what we're doing is revisiting where we came from."

The Black Label Couture collection includes a beauty case, tote bag, wheeled duffel, soft-side spinner, weekender bag, hat box, handbag and wallet. Depending on the fabric selection, the pieces retail from $750 to $2,000.

After Moscow, the Couture collection will be launched in May at Samsonite stores in New York, San Francisco, London, Seoul and Tokyo. Other cities and in-store shops will also sell the service within the next four months.

"We're going to go up to 15 stores in a second wave and increase them in a third wave," MacKay said. "We want to make sure we perfect exactly what we want to do."

MacKay cited the primary reason for such a controlled rollout is to ensure a four- to six-week delivery time for the custom-made pieces.

In celebration of the collection, guests were invited to indulge their inner couture with a quick jet to Moscow last week. They received a personal consultation from MacKay and were able to design their own pieces of luggage. MacKay and company president and chief executive officer Marcello Bottoli held a press conference during the day and a party that night at the nightclub Version 1.0, where the brand set up a virtual Black Label store and staged a runway show.The Couture collection is one way the 97-year-old brand — once known for basic travel pieces — is reinventing its image for a fashion-forward customer. It made headlines this spring by launching a limited edition collection with ready-to-wear designer Alexander McQueen and Cameron Silver, who owns the hip Los Angeles store Decades. The company tapped actress Christina Ricci as its ambassador and will create other similar pairings in the future.

"We always look into fashion, architecture, pioneers in their own field," said MacKay, although he could not say who would be the next guest designer.

Samsonite is also aiming to become a lifestyle brand, launching fashion handbags and shoes for 2007 and potentially expanding into other categories, such as sunglasses. But its core products will always be available, although at a somewhat higher price point.

"Not everyone wants to stick out from the crowd," MacKay said.

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